Adrian Grech
Senior English
Why does Iago deceive everyone around him?

The story “Othello the Moor of Venice” has many themes in it. A few important themes in this play are trust and deceit. Throughout the play, Iago gains the trust of several characters and he deceives many of them too. Iago is able to gain their trust and deceive them by creating situations in which he appears to be a person who is always there to help out his friends, is always there to comfort them through worrisome times, and by appearing to be an overly honest person. The reason he does this – I believe- is because he not only wants to be ranked lieutenant, but because he enjoys a good show, which to him would be watching the other characters have ill feeling towards one another and for there to be a huge amount of chaos amongst them.

One scene where deceit and over-honesty is shown is when Cassio becomes drunk at Iago’s hand and he goes berserk, attacking Roderigo and Montano. Iago tells Roderigo to get Othello to help out and when Othello arrives at the scene, he sees Cassio and Montano in battle. Othello demotes Cassio from his lieutenancy, leaving the spot in the open. Iago, making sure that Cassio wasn’t wounded in the fight asks him if he was injured. Cassio replies “Ay, past all surgery!” and goes on to tell Iago that his pride is now gone since he was stripped of his lieutenancy. Iago then takes advantage of Cassio’s thoughts to make himself seem extremely honest and wise, making him seem more trustworthy. Iago takes advantage by saying “I am an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily wound." (Shakespeare, 99). He then goes on to talk about how reputation isn’t everything and that being concerned about health is better than being concerned about a name. Doing this makes him seem like a person who is morally concerned for his friends, allowing him to close any suspicion one might have. Also, by saying that he is an “honest” person, Iago ensures that he has avoided conflict with Cassio, which is a good thing because if Cassio had remembered that Iago had gotten him drunk in the first place, he might have told Othello and Iago’s scheme would be exposed. But acting like a person who simply cares a lot about his friends and their health protects Iago from having Cassio blame him.

Iago also uses this scene to make himself look like a comforting friend. He comforts Cassio by telling him to speak to Othello’s wife, Desdemona. By explaining that he had somehow gotten drunk, and didn’t know what he was doing, Desdemona would be able to re-promote Cassio into lieutenancy. Iago tells Cassio “{I’ll} tell you what you shall do. Our general’s wife is now the general: I may say so in this respect, for that he hath devoted and given himself to the contemplation, mark and [denotement] of her parts and graces. Confess yourself freely to her. Importune her help to put you in your place again. She is so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested.” (Shakespeare, 103) This quote shows that Desdemona is a kind and generous person who will definitely help Cassio to get back his lieutenancy. By suggesting Cassio to talk to Desdemona, he is manipulating her, knowing she will return him to his post. This would allow Iago to continue having his sick enjoyment of taking Cassio down again. Why else would he help him get his position back?

Besides deceiving Cassio and having him use Desdemona, Iago also gains Othello’s trust so that he can deceive him too. He begins doing so by appearing to me a truthful person who is concerned for others. For example, when Othello is getting ready to speak to Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, about marriage, Iago is there by Othello’s side. Iago warns him of the consequences of getting on Brabantio’s bad side, making himself seem like a wise and caring/concerned person. He tells Othello “…I did full hard forbear him. But I pray you, sir, are you fast married? Be assured of this, that the magnifico is much beloved, and hath in his effect a voice potential as double as the duke’s. He will divorce you or put upon you what restraint or grievance the law (with all his might to enforce it on) will give him cable.” (Shakespeare, 21) By warning Othello and advising him of the consequences for maddening Brabantio, Iago appears to be a loyal side-kick who is concerned for their master. These types of people are usually trustworthy, and being in this position is perfect for Iago to scheme from.

By getting Cassio drunk, Iago also shows loyalty to Othello when he says “Hold, ho! Lieutenant-sir-Montano-gentlemen-Have you forgotten [all sense of place] and duty? Hold! The General speaks to you. Hold, for shame!” (Shakespeare, 93) This quote shows that Iago is a capable commander and makes him look good while Cassio looks bad, raising the trust and respect that Othello has for Iago, as he can trust Iago to take good care of something. In fact, Othello immediately asks him to watch the town while he treats Montano’s wounds and he had just demoted Cassio.

What also helps Iago to win Othello’s trust is how he slowly forces him to associate Iago with honesty. He does this by often saying the word “honest” so often, that Othello eventually comes to think of Iago as “honest Iago”. By using the word “honest” very often, Othello and other characters eventually come to know him as “honest Iago”, which is perfect because it reduces any suspicion around him while he schemes. In fact, Othello comes to believe that Iago is so honest, that he believes Iago only speaks the truth. For example, when Iago tells Othello that he loves him in terms of respect after being asked what he thinks about trusting Cassio around Desdemona, as Cassio was trying to get his post back and he is known for being a charmer, Othello replies “I think thou dost; And for I know though ‘rt full of love and honesty and weigh’st thy words before giv’st them breath, (Shakespeare, 125). This means that Othello truly believes that Iago is honest and that he only speaks words of truth. When Iago replies about whether he trusts Cassio he says “For Michael Cassio, I dare be sworn I think he is honest.” (Shakespeare, 125) Othello responds with “I think so too” (Shakespeare, 125). Oddly enough, it was Iago’s idea that Cassio talk to Desdemona, which means that Iago had used both Cassio and Desdemona so that he can create a suspicion between them and Othello would consort him. Othello, trusting Iago, would trust Cassio too because Iago does. For a man to throw caution in the wind when it comes to his lady is a task that, in my opinion, is not so easy to do. Obviously, Iago won Othello’s trust.

I believe that what started out as getting Cassio’s lieutenancy became an opportunity to entertain Iago’s sick need for chaos and a “good show”. Iago could have ended everything much easier than how he did. It’s true that he requested Roderigo’s help and Roderigo wanted Desdemona for himself so he may have continued to try and separate Othello and Desdemona to hold his end of the bargain, but I doubt that. Iago could’ve not sent Roderigo to fetch Othello when Cassio went berserk. By doing so, Cassio would’ve continued to fight Roderigo and Iago could’ve sent Montano to fetch Othello. While Montano was gone, Iago could’ve made sure that Cassio and Roderigo looked like they killed each other off by killing both of them or by waiting for one of them to kill the other and then killing the victor. Then he could clean up any evidence and told Othello that they killed each other, leaving Iago as an applicant for lieutenancy. But Iago didn’t do that, instead, he chose a long way…he even helped Cassio get his post back when he could’ve just left Cassio at the restaurant and not given him the idea to do so! All of this leads me to believe that Iago just wanted to be entertained.

In conclusion, Iago is able to gain their trust and deceive the people around him by creating situations in which he appears to be a person who is always there to help out his friends, is always there to comfort them through worrisome times, and by appearing to be an overly honest person, protecting him from any suspicion.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster inc., March 2009.